You’ve probably heard this before. But my mailbox says too many writers are not taking it seriously.
You want to get read?
Keep your writing simple.
I’m talking 4th to 6th grade level simple.
Writing at a higher grade level doesn’t make your writing more impressive. It makes your writing less likely to be read.
Here’s what Jeff Brooks, a master of this, says in The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications:
If readers have to labor to read your fundraising message, they usually won’t bother. They’ll stop reading. If they don’t read it, they aren’t likely to respond.
I had a college professor who put it a different way. “If you make me read that sentence twice, it had better damned well be worth it!”
So how do you do that? Well, telling you what to do is easy. Doing it takes a little more work.
Jeff breaks it down into two simple things:
- Keep your sentences short
- Keep your words short
Keep your sentences short
Rewrite complex phrases. If you find a complex phrase, you may need to rethink the whole sentence. Sometimes complexity masks a lack of clarity. Go back and think about what you’re trying to say. Then try to say it as if you’re explaining it to a 6th grader.
Don’t depend on conjunctions to sew sentences together. I find I use them more at the beginning of sentences than in the middle. (Apologies to my grade school English teachers!)
If you find yourself stringing together lists, use bullets instead. You’ll get the same information across, but it will be much easier to skim.
Read what you’ve written to see what you can remove. The word “that” can often be taken out, for instance.
Brooks also suggests being stingy with adverbs and adjectives. If they’re not necessary, take them out.
Keep your words short
It sets my teeth on edge when someone writes “utilize” when “use” is a better word. Or “explicate” instead of “explain”. “Endeavor” instead of “try”. You get the idea.
Pretentious doesn’t impress. It gets in the way.
Sometimes a longer word works better. If it’s a word people commonly use, it might be the best choice.
It’s also a good idea to look at the number of syllables in a word. Many of us hear the words in our heads as we read. More syllables make the word seem more complex.
Here’s a list of complex words and simpler substitutes word for you. Give it a try.
Telling you what to do is easy. But doing it is not. I’ll rewrite this post after I run it through a readability test. Then I’ll keep editing until I’m sure it’s as clear as I can make it.
Let me know how I did.